For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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After the news broke that Usher and Shakira are set to substitute for Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera on Season 4 of The Voice, I sat down to watch last night’s episode with a keen sense of separation anxiety. With Cee Lo and Christina officially leaving, are we about to enter whatever the opposite of a honeymoon period is? (I don’t know its name, but it involves lots of crying and throwing your former loved one’s possessions out of fifth-story windows.)
I grow even more nervous when Cee Lo’s first talking head interview features him looking suspiciously normal in a simple black sweater — with neither a pair of ostentatious glasses nor an exotic pet to be seen. Don’t give up on us yet, Papa Bear.
The auditions begin with Trevanne Howell, an exasperatingly gorgeous single mom from the Bronx. At 33, Trevanne is a relative ancient among The Voice’s disproportionately young class of cadets.
She bites off a big mouthful of Whitney with “I Have Nothing,” but it proves to be more than she can chew. Despite her general competence, I’m not moved — and neither are the judges. Christina gives Trevanne credit for an “ambitious” choice of song, but correctly points out that nerves had left her voice a little shaky.
Trevanne’s Result: Team Nobody
Next up is Collin McLoughlin — not, tragically, Kyle MacLachlan, as my Dale Cooper-loving ears originally encouraged me to believe. Collin dropped out of a graduate-level business program at NYU to pursue singing, much to his parents’ dismay. Mr. and Mrs. McLoughlin do admit that they’d finally feel validated about Collin’s choice if even one of the coaches would turn around for him. So, no pressure there, kiddo.
Collin radiates a mellow, coffeehouse vibe on the Yusuf Islam née Cat Stevens classic “Wild World,” accompanying himself on guitar (at this rate, a contestant could sing while simply holding a guitar and I’d still be impressed).
Well, Mama and Papa Collin can consider themselves triple-validated: three judges vie for their son’s allegiance. He chooses Adam, who proclaims Collin to be one of the “purest” singers ever on the show.
Collin’s Result: Team Adam
Born prematurely, 17-year-old Joselyn Rivera suffered from neurological problems in early childhood. When she turned five, a doctor “prescribed music” — hours of singing karaoke every day seemingly sped up her cognitive development. This is a touching story and all, but “prescribed music?” I’m not convinced that this was a real doctor and not an under-medicated stranger, equipped with a stolen prescription pad and a plastic Playskool stethoscope.
Joselyn offers a lively version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” leaving the judges impressed with how “flawlessly” she nails the high notes.
Joselyn’s Result: Team Christina
It’s a bold move to go by only your first name, an even bolder move when you share that name with a beloved celebrity, and a bolder move still when that celebrity is a dog: meet Benji, a former race car driver. His “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” demonstrates self-possession and a “dynamic range” (Adam), though I personally didn’t care much for his overwrought take on a song that’s best left understated.
But Cee Lo, Adam, and Blake are all enthralled, particularly when it comes to Benji’s capacity for screaming. (Fun fact: it’s extremely loud inside race cars, and that’s actually just Benji’s normal speaking voice.)
Benji’s Result: Team Adam
If Trevanne is our (would-be) cast grandma, Lorraine Ferro, at a youthful 52, is buried somewhere in its fossil record.
Vivacious, adorable Lorraine — a voice, performance, and songwriting coach — has the energy of a woman half her age, but is dressed in as many different prints as she is years old. Backstage footage shows her line dancing with what appear to be adult female twins dressed in identical, blue sequined tops, but this, naturally, goes unexplained.
Lorraine covers Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper,” because there ain’t nothing a 20-year-old can do that a 52-year-old can’t do 2.6 times better. The performance exhibits her vocal power, as well as her decades of experience, but the exaggerated raspiness of her voice seems more appropriate for musical theater than pop.
Sadly, the judges don’t turn for Lorraine. It’s too bad; I was kind of hoping to watch this cougar devour Mackenzie Bourg alive.
Lorraine’s Result: Team Nobody
The evening’s last contestant, Mycle Wastman, lost both his parents as a child, and the grandfather who raised him passed away only weeks before his blind audition. Oof.
His gorgeous, smooth rendition of “Let’s Stay Together” is one of my favorite performances I’ve seen this season, proving an incredible vocal range. Cee Lo — no relation to Reverend Al — tells Mycle he’s “more excited about him than anyone else today,” and sways him away from Team Adam with his soul cred.
Mycle’s Result: Team Cee Lo
In the episode’s final backstage moments, Cee Lo sensually strips to his undershirt with no apparent provocation, to the horror and amusement of his fellow coaches. My earlier fears have been assuaged: the Lady Killer is here to stay.
The Voice returns on Monday at 8 for another night of blind auditions. I intend to spend the coming week curled up to a freeze-frame of Blake Shelton tenderly embracing his ACM Award.
Tweet me @mollyfitz while I get it cued up on my TiVo.
[Image Credit: NBC]
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At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.